Letter from a courtroom in Guatemala


When Sharon Hammel and Catherine De León signed up to participate in Seattle International Foundation’s (SIF) Women’s Delegation to Guatemala, they did not expect to get to see a piece of history unfold before their eyes.

Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize meets with SIF Women’s Delegation participants Sharon Hammel and Catherine De Leon/ EFE News Agency.)

In April, SIF hosted an eight-person women’s delegation trip to Guatemala. Over the course of a week, the women traveled across the country visiting rural communities and non-profits that work to promote women’s equality and support women’s leaders. They also met with the former president of the Supreme Court and the country’s Attorney General, as well as US officials and local human rights leaders.

But for Cathy and Sharon the highlight would come the last day of their visit. That morning, they would put on nametags, pack their cameras and pass security checkpoints in order to finally make their way into the courtroom. The 350-seat auditorium was filled with international observers, activists, journalists, and indigenous Guatemalans. Sitting on the left-hand side, was former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

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Visit to Genocide Trial


Submitted by:  Catherine de León

Sharon and I visited the Genocide Trial of Generals Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez on 8 April 2013.  We were accompanied by our interpreter and a reporter, who actually had attended the trails on previous days.  The Court room was set up with the 2 defendants at a table on the left side with their respective attorneys. The prosecuting attorneys were on the opposite side facing the defense.  The Judge and her 2 staff (possibly also judges) were up in front behind a long podium stretching across the front of the room under a large official seal of Guatemala.  On the floor in the middle was a table for the testifying witnesses, called to present their evidence and address questions from each side.  They were called upon by name one by one from outside the courtroom, and then escorted out of the courtroom once they were finished.

The evidence that day was being presented by forensic anthropologists and sociologists, who had been requested by the Attorney General’s office to exhume graves and examine the remains and other contents that had been buried.  They each were responsible for different graves in or near Nebaj, Quiche.  The exhumations took place in the early 2000’s.  They described the process they used in determining where graves might be located which included scanning the terrain and looking for unusual mounds.  They examined the bodies with and without clothes, taking pictures.  Then they bagged the remains individually with any articles found belonging to them.  They were able to identify men, women, teenagers and children.  Some evidence was found of bodies that had been exhumed previously by relatives and re-buried somewhere else having burial ceremonial procedures performed.  There was evidence of bullet holes on some corpses; others had blows to the head, presumably executed by machetes.  There was a large grave under a soccer field in Nebaj, and when those bodies were exhumed the local people were able to identify by name over 30 of the victims.  These names and their ages were read in court.

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Defying the culture of silence in a country still at war


Guatemala City __ Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala’s only Nobel laureate for literature, once famously said that “to live in Guatemala one had to be drunk or just plain mad.” At the time, Asturias echoed the exasperation of millions whom were under a crippling dictatorship. Over half a century later, this Central-American nation continues to be a bleak and violent place where corruption and impunity run rampant.

The signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 put an end to the 36-year-old civil war that killed 200,000 people and disappeared 45,000, according to the U.N.—most of which were women. The war polarized the entire country and the military’s scorched early policy fomented a culture of terror and silence.

We now know that a large majority of the war’s casualties did not belong to the guerrilla uprising. The overwhelming majority of the population was dominated into silent compliance. The army controlled all aspects of society and mass communication. Any rebuttal was deemed as politically subversive and quashed. Civilian silence grew.

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Experts call for radical changes in education in Guatemala


The following is a translation of the article “Expertos piden cambios radicales en educaciónwritten by Evelyn Ruano, Siglo21. 

“The results are a reflection of what has not been done in the early years of education.”

A group of experts propose various radical changes to straighten the country’s education system. The reason behind these changes is due to the system yielding poor results, as proven by evaluations done by the Ministry of Education (Mineduc).

Since 2006, students across the country in both public and private education were subjected to mandatory testing which showed evidence of a 24% passing rate in reading, 7% in math.

According to the Director General of Evaluation and Educational Investigation of the Ministry of Education, in 2012, of 137,455 students tested, 94.02% of students in public schools and 91.97% of private failed in mathematics. In reading, the percentage of unsatisfactory is 76.25% and 74.54%, respectively.

As a response to this, the educational sector urges the need to transform the educational system from its roots, starting in kindergarten and primary levels. Similarly, they urged the creation of a national curriculum that offers technical courses that meet the needs of the nation, expanding the training system for teachers, and having the Ministry of Education exercising greater control over the educational institutions.

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Call for applications: Central American Women’s Leadership Program


Are you a woman leader living and working in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica or Panama?

Do you have more than three years of experience working on leadership with NGO’s or of social basis?

Are you committed to building a positive social change in your community?

Are you between 25 and 45 years old?

Do you have intermediate skills to converse in English?

Are you available to travel to the city of Seattle, Washington USA in September 2013 to participate in an eight-week intensive training?

The Central American Women’s Leadership (CAWL) program is a partnership between iLEAP and the Seattle International Foundation. iLEAP is now accepting applications for FIVE (5) Central American women leaders to participate in this intensive training in leadership and social innovation. These Central American women leaders will be part of the group of 15 international fellows from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This is a global experience, unique and intercultural, based in Seattle.

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About the blog:
This blog was created to support the Central America Network and encourage dialogue around relevant research, news and poverty alleviation efforts in the region.
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